Hey, Answerman! - Dollars and Censorship

by Brian Hanson,

Evening, genteel readers! Welcome to another fresh batch of Q&A goodness that is Hey, Answerman!

I won't bother you with any boring details like the weather (a few days ago it was incredibly nice! Now it's cold, windy, and exceptionally rainy!) so that I can delve right in to this week's questions, which are quite good:

I sent you the trolls email a few weeks ago and I wanted to thank you for being upfront with me. The online environment I was exposing myself to was taking me with it and affecting my perceptions of all anime fans. My own insecurities were making me one of them. I just needed to have that pointed out. I also wanted to say that I apologize for coming across so angry. I was pretty furious when writing that letter. Not a way I ever want to act or think with my fellow fans. I think I will switch over to Yung's side now.

I actually had a question however. Why do you think sites that offer a "consensus" rating such as IMDB or our very own ANN are so popular? What do these scores actually mean? Should I care about them?

Aw, shucks! That's great! Glad to provide clarity to those who seek it out, m'friend.

Now, the consensus! Right. See, that's a tricky proposition to make in the world of "art." You know what happens when there's a "consensus" about the status of artistic progress? The Academy Awards. Very few Oscars - Best Picture Oscars, at least - are actually given to the best unassailable works of artistic genius. No, sir. They give awards to things like The Artist, The King's Speech, and soon, probably, Argo. I have nothing against those movies - I really, really liked Argo a lot, actually - but they're only "Best Picture" because they're the consensus pick of over 6,000 or so aging film industry types. The truly revelatory films of the past year, the ones that will truly stand the test of time as works artistic triumph, won't win Best Picture. Let's face facts, here; we're a decidedly middle-brow society. That's just the nature of things. A dedicated few of us appreciate and laud the finest of the finer things; a dedicated few of us are eager to "appreciate" the lowest of the low. Everyone else exists somewhere in between. What the "consensus" exists to prove is where, exactly, that middle line resides.

You can literally drive yourself insane by reading the Top Whatever lists of either IMDb or ANN's Anime Top 10, judging the merits of a more "popular" title as a sign of its declarative cultural worth. I mean, how the hell is Inception better than Goodfellas? And Season 2 of Code Geass is somehow better than mother****ing Spirited Away? What world are we living in?

Of course, in both of those cases the averages are decidedly skewed by the number of votes; the reason that Steins;Gate ranks as highly as it does at the moment is because it has a (relatively) small number of votes compared to Cowboy Bebop, and the people who've voted on it obviously ranked it very highly. This is all pretty basic Bayes Estimation 101. It's very smart mathematics, even if it is poor artistic criticism; it's far from the best way to estimate the appropriate artistic "value" of something, but it *is* a great snapshot into the way we, as a society, place our collective, consensus opinion on these things. And considering the niche aspect of anime fandom, that's not just useful data for marketers who love to use buzzwords like "analytics," it's an interesting snapshot of the buzzed-about titles in the current anime landscape. Steins;Gate is number 1 right now, and while that's hardly factually correct, it's accurate about the collective mindshare that Steins;Gate occupies for anime fans at the moment. Of the past year or so, nothing else like Steins;Gate has struck as loud of a chord. The people who love it, LOVE IT; and everyone else who watches it, they like it too. What do I make of that data? If I watch Steins;Gate, chances are, I'll either LOVE IT, or I'll like it - just like everybody else. See where I'm getting at?

Here's how I interpret "consensus" opinions; when Joe Wright's Anna Karenina was playing a block away from my girlfriend's apartment, I *knew* I had to see it. "We gotta see it," I said, "because the reviews for the movie are ALL OVER THE PLACE. Either it'll be great, or it'll be terrible. Either way, it'll be bonkers." People who saw Anna Karenina either hated it, or they loved it. Turns out? Anna Karenina sucks in a way that very few movies suck: it sucks admirably and without compromise. I hated it, but I respect its insane decisions. But I'm just a weirdo who loves other weird things. Most people, generally speaking, don't want to waste their time with something unless they're sure they'll either love it or at least like it.

And that, good fellow, is where consensus opinion is indispensable. Argo is not the Best Picture of 2012, but most people will either love it or like it. The Shawshank Redemption is not the best film of All Time, but you'll probably really dig it. Steins;Gate is not the Best Anime Ever, but you'll probably find it interesting and you'll like the characters to the point where you'll give it an 8 out of 10, or thereabouts.

Hey, Answerman!

When I read last week's column, there was a question regarding YuruYuri and it's impossibility to be "altered" to a younger audience. That made me think of several shows that are meant for an older audience and still get some annoying censoring, like Highschool Of The Dead, KissXSis, Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse and Onii-chan no Koto nanka Zenzen Suki Janain Dakara ne!!. And those are just from the top of my head. If I dig deeper I'm sure I will find a bunch of them. SO: Why is this? if these titles are meant for an older audience, why are they censored in such a distinctive way?

Well, that depends on whether or not you considered them "censored" in the first place. Also: if you're talking about simply the late-night anime adaptations of those particular titles, that's a separate thing, born out of avarice. Simply speaking, they'll use fog or obnoxious lighting to cover up all the nipples and butts, in order to whet fanboy boners and appetites in order to sell them EXORBITANTLY EXPENSIVE uncensored Blu Rays. In the original manga for each of those titles, even THERE you'll find plenty of Eyes Wide Shut-style censorship to cover up the naughtiest of the naughty parts.

What I mean is - the "censorship" you refer to was there to begin with. Highschool of the Dead revels in nudity and gore, but they're careful not to show any vagina shots. Every other title you referenced certainly ranks pretty high on the Fanservice-o-meter, but none of them dare to venture out into the realm of actual, honest pornography. They key to understanding why that is is to simply look at where they were initially published.

Highschool of the Dead was published in Monthly Dragon Age. Kiss X Sis was in Young Magazine. Muv Luv Alternative was in Dengeki Daioh. Onii-chan no Koto nanka Zenzen Suki Janain Dakara ne!! (what a keyboardfull!) was in Comic High!. Those are all seinen manga publications. Seinen, just in case people aren't familiar, is like a slightly more grown-up variant of shonen manga, typically targeted towards 18-30 year old men. However! Just because they target an older male demographic doesn't necessarily mean they can get away with bloody murder as far as sex, violence, and nudity is concerned. For a culturally relative example, 18-30 year old males is the same demographic that Comedy Central targets with the majority of its programming, but you'll notice that all the F-bombs and other such foul language is bleeped out, and there's never a trace of nudity. What gives? Why would a cable channel that isn't bound to the draconian laws of the FCC not treat its overwhelmingly adult audience like adults?

The answer is - well, who knows? They have a Standards & Practices department, like every other network and publication. They decide what is and isn't "suitable" for the public. Maybe they just want to avoid any nasty, unwanted attention from the public and the press? Either way, they look at the cultural attitudes towards certain things - like foul language and nudity, and currently violence - and make their judgments accordingly. For an anime-specific example, episodes of Cowboy Bebop were edited shortly after 9/11 to remove any shots of buildings exploding, and an entire episode about a terrorist bomber was excised entirely for years.

None of the titles you mentioned are actual pornography. The creators behind them wish to make money and be successful, and in that case that means certain sacrifices as far as content. Like I mentioned previously, every manga publication has their own version of a Standards and Practices department that works closely with the editors to ensure that no specific manga "crosses the line," so to speak. Disregarding Japan's general censorship laws (no penises or vaginas, ever!), the editors generally want to make sure that each title in their publication is beloved by their audience without upsetting the figurative apple cart. Essentially, what you're thinking of as "censorship" is a lie. All the ways the authors and artists used to cover up sex and nudity was there from the beginning.

That begs the question: is that really censorship? In my mind: No. The creators behind those specific manga knew what they were dealing with from the beginning. These aren't works of art, they're pieces of popular entertainment devised for the seinen market. Whatever things they had to hide or mask in order to be published is all part of the process; the process of making their work seen and beloved by the audience that pays, every month, to open up an issue of Young Magazine and enjoy the R-rated debauchery.

Of course, your mileage may vary, and you're more than welcome to call it "censorship" if you want. Certainly, if you think that manga authors and writers should be free to explore every nook and cranny of their work without boundaries, the restrictions imposed on them by editors could conceivably count as "censorship." For me, though, the cost of publication in a major magazine is a high one - you get your work exposed to a wide audience, and that means sacrifices as far as content is concerned, because a conscious decision was made to give up control over content in order to attain an audience that belongs to the publication itself. But that's just me.

All I'm saying is that this is a commercial enterprise, and the process of determining what is and isn't appropriate to an audience is out of their hands. Recently in the movie world, the Evil Dead remake made a few headlines when the MPAA gave the initial cut of the film an NC-17 rating, and the filmmakers had to make cuts in order to achieve an R-rating. Cry "censorship!" if you must, but for me, that makes sense - no movie studio in the world sets out to make an NC-17 movie, not after Showgirls was a bomb. Most of the time, the movie's rating is actually an integral part of the film's contract; unless you're one of the few filmmakers in the world who are afforded the enviable position of getting Final Cut, you make the necessary cuts to ensure you get the rating that'll ensure you get played as often as possible in as many theaters as possible. For Evil Dead, that means an R-rating; the "unrated" version will surely be a part of the home video release. It's just a part of the process.

So, that's why you'll see various things obscuring nudity and sexual activities in the titles you mentioned. It may be an older audience, but the publishers and their editors don't want any negative attention distracting from potential sales, so the conversation about content starts early. Highschool of the Dead made sure that, despite all the pendulous boobage, all the sexual activity was far from explicit, and they did that cleverly from its inception.

In your last column you talked about how shows like Doraemon are hard to license because they don't fit into what we think of as "anime" and are hard to market -- yet until the '00s, children's anime was almost always just marketed as cartoons for children. Everyone knows the silly lengths licensors would sometimes go to westernize their shows; 4Kids was completely open about the fact that they didn't want children to know they were watching something foreign. But that seems to have stopped since anime entered public consciousness and became known under the label of anime. Even 4Kids branded its Toonzai block as "Where epic anime lives".

Why can animation made in Japan and targeted at children no longer simply be licensed and marketed as children's entertainment? With the exception of Ghibli films, everything gets relegated to the anime section in video stores where only people searching for anime can find them. Child friendly titles with family appeal like Summer Wars miss out on a much greater potential audience. Is it no longer possible for either the video or syndication market to sustain licensed children's titles aimed at children rather than at anime fans, or is it just that nobody thinks to do it anymore?

Boy, this week's column is nothing but me answering to previous answers! Weird.

For this one, though, I'm going to defer to the infinite wisdom of industry expert Justin Sevakis.

Justin: These are two very separate issues, when it comes to TV shows and movies.

With TV shows, cable networks in general don't really want to waste their time and money on shows that are already made, and yet have no significant "built-in" audience. American TV networks are used to calling the shots on their new shows. When they introduce those new shows to the public for the first time, they are very carefully studying what people respond to and what doesn't work, and tweaking the shows themselves to try and appeal to as wide an audience as possible.

They can't do that with anime. It's already made. Short of doing some editing (which, unless it's for censorship reasons, most licensors won't allow these days), there's absolutely no way to adjust the final product. You can't add characters, you can't remove characters, you can't spend more time on a certain type of humor that viewers seem to like. What's more, you don't own the show.

That's a lot of control to give up for a property that:
A. you're going to have to pay to market from scratch (it's not like a rerun of an old show that people already remember and know they like)

B. as ratings at Cartoon Network and [adult swim] proved, probably won't even attract that many people

C. you don't own it, so you won't get a slice of home video sales or international markets, or merchandise potential -- all of which require the exposure that you're giving to it.

Back when the children's TV business was more about syndicating shows to small, independent local TV stations, the above concerns weren't nearly such a big deal -- those stations would basically take what they could get, and wouldn't expect to make more money than that. But now that children's programming has moved pretty much entirely to a handful of very powerful cable networks, those are gigantic obstacles to bringing anime to a children's market. Children's programming is a big, big business, and there's simply not a compelling business case to be made for bringing in an already-made foreign property you can't control or own, when you can make one yourself.

It's not that there aren't companies that are still mining Japan's back catalogs trying to find new children's programming -- there are. But with most of the good, clearly marketable long-running properties already spoken for, pickings are pretty slim.

As for movies, the vast, vast majority of child-friendly movies Japan makes (that aren't tied into a long-running Shonen Jump property or somesuch) tend to be extremely depressing, steeped in Japanese-ness, or extremely long and slow moving -- all three of which are Cryptonite to parents, who are the people you really have to sell to. Given how expensive it is to market a theatrical release, the idea of giving those films much of a release at all is a non-starter.

By the way, Summer Wars was not a kids' movie, it was a teen movie. Nobody in their right mind would try to sell that to children.

B-BUT JUSTIN! GKids marketed Summer Wars, and they have "Kids" RIGHT THERE IN THEIR NAME! How do you explain that, huh?!?! And that concludes the portion of the column where I ask pedantic and insipid questions to myself. Moving on.

Okay friends. "Peeps." Homeboys and doggs. Time to let you speak and have your voices heard! Or, read!

Last week, inspired by Jason Thompson's great two-part saga of Shonen Jump Alpha, I wanted to get your opinion!

Let us begin this reverie with Kory, who had the classiest dang quote by Stanislavsky as their email signature:

...I want to talk about Shonen Jump Alpha, I really do. I want to say it's the biggest and best thing to happen to the manga industry since things like Crunchyroll and the supposed Funico did/could do (respectively) for anime.

Shonen Jump has everything it needs to succeed in the manga market here; which is to say it has One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach. But how much easier is it in the manga industry to just go to a scanlation site and read it there? And most importantly to the fans, FOR FREE. It's pretty easy to download anime week to week, day to day, but it's a lot more annoying. Crunchyroll and Funimation's streaming services are just more convenient than downloading it. Of course, there's streaming sites for anime, but us in anime are usually quality***s (pardon the language) along with our DESIRE for freeware, so torrenting is usually the best, free-est option. Manga doesn't have the same quality limitation. Just make the picture look better and you're good.

That said, Shonen Jump Alpha was definitely the biggest jump in the RIGHT direction for the manga industry. Physical media, I think, is never going to die out. But places like Right Stuf and Amazon are going to be the best places to buy it, not Barnes and Noble or Borders or whatever other places. So the key for Shonen Jump, and for Viz, is to make it convenient for anime fans. I think it's already cheap enough (at $25/year, I don't think it can get much better!), but is it convenient enough? I'll say that I haven't used the service, since I'm more an anime fan than I am a manga fan (and when I am a manga fan, I like it in my hands), so I'm hardly the one to judge whether it really has reached that level of convenience.

Like you said (sort of), it is going to have to come down to marketing. If Funimation has its god-like hands over the anime market (and they do), then Viz arguably has their slightly-less-god-like hands over the manga market. They have the power to push this great idea in the right direction. They just need to convince me that they can and do something. I honestly feel like I've heard more prattle about Shonen Jump and Shonen Jump Alpha from the folks on Twitter than I have from Viz. While hearsay is Viz's biggest and best weapon, they need some more of their own marketing before I'm convinced to spend $25/year to read manga that I'm not caught up with yet (nor have a cost-efficient way of doing so).

But who knows. It could be great. I sure hope it's great.

This next one is from Kate, who decries her age in the face of shonen fun and violence:

Hey, Answerman!

What do I think of Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha? It is... not for me. Not anymore, I don't think.

I'm just too old. I've fallen off the bandwagon, pretty hardcore. It is cool that they're offering them within two weeks of their Japanese release, but I can't even UNDERSTAND half of the crap that's going on in Naruto anymore. Normally, I would just simply go out and get myself caught up, but what I was trying to read made absolutely no sense. And don't even get me started on how stupid Bleach has become.

The other problem is that the other, NEW manga... doesn't really appeal to me all that much. One-Punch Man was never my kind of thing to begin with, especially now that I'm in my 30's. Takama-ga-hara is just blah, for me.

I guess it's important for Viz to re-brand Shonen Jump in a pretty big way, and hey it got me - I was certainly curious enough to download it. I'm just not a part of that fanbase anymore, I guess. It sucks growing old sometimes.

Our last is from Andrew, who has resigned himself to Weekly Shonen Jump's charms:

On the whole, I think it's certainly a... start. Viz has got their work cut out for them, though.

First of all, I don't like the whole way it's sold as an in-app purchase for their already existing Viz Manga app, which already HAS free chapters for certain titles available. Maybe I'm just being crazy, but I would separate the two of them. I know Viz's name was all over Shonen Jump when it was a magazine, but I can guarantee more people know about Shonen Jump than Viz, which I think is a lost opportunity. When I type "Shonen Jump" into the Google Play store on my tablet, it sends me to the Viz Manga app, which, I think, to your average, non-manga-savvy person, is a dead end. I guess they want to keep everything together under one big digital roof, but I think that kinda defeats the purpose of all the work they did a decade ago to really sell the Shonen Jump name as a real brand.

The titles themselves aren't bad. I really liked Cross Manage, so I'll probably keep up with SJ just for that. And re-reading Dragon Ball is fun, and I like the coloring.

So, verdict: B-. Not bad, not great lineup, kind of a waste of the Shonen Jump name. That said, they've got my money and they'll probably still get it for a little while longer, so they must be doing something right.

Such tepid words! Hopefully that won't be the cast next week - I wanna get you all riled up and start the fire in your bellies! Let's burn this barn down! Metaphorically, I mean!

Now you've got this week's question, and it's time to get answerin'.

For those of you new to Hey, Answerfans!, I'll explain the concept.

Believe it or not, I'm genuinely curious what you think.

That's right; as much as I love the sound of my own voice, I do love to listen to what other people have to say on a subject. I'm finding that over the last few years, the attitudes, reasoning and logic that today's anime fans use eludes, confuses or astounds me; I have so many questions for you, and I'm dying to hear what you have to say in response.

Welcome to Hey, Answerfans!

Basically, we're turning the tables. Each week I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to email me your answer. Be as honest as you can. I'm looking for good answers; not answers I agree with or approve of, but good, thoughtful answers
. People feel passionately about these subjects and I'd like to see that in the responses I get. I'll post the best answers I get, and maybe some of the crappy ones. Sometimes there may only be one or two good ones; sometimes five or more. It all depends on what I get in my inbox! Got it? Pretty simple, right? Start writing those answers and email them to answerman [at] animenewsnetwork dot com.

We do have a few simple ground rules to start with.

Things To Do:

* Be coherent.
* Be thoughtful.
* Be passionate.
* Write as much or as little as you feel you need to to get your point across in the best possible way.

Things Not To Do:

* Respond when the question doesn't apply to you. For instance, if your email response starts with "Well, I don't do whatever you're asking about in the question... " then I'm going to stop reading right there and hit delete.

* Be unnecessarily rude or use a lot of foul language.
* Go off-topic.

Okay folks, you know what to do! Over hill and over vale, to my inbox at answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com with more questions and Answerfans responses! Until next week, adieu!

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